Where's the trick here?

Edited: June 28, 2018, 4:07 AM · Hi! Yesterday I stumbled upon this website:

http://palomavaleva.com/en

It sells 'French' instruments at a 'cheap' price. I'd like to know if you've heard about them. I bet the instruments are not French, or are just finished in France, or are directly China-made. But I must recognize some of them look aesthetically good. Has anyone tried these instruments?

I'd like to start an informal (and informative) discussion on how can one recognize a good violin, and distinguish it from a mediocre one. And how can this be made through the internet, if possible at all.

Replies (20)

June 28, 2018, 10:31 AM · There are many possible "tricks." For one thing, each country has its own rules about defining what exactly a product must be in order to be labelled as such.

For example, to be called "bourbon" a beverage has to be made of 51% corn. Not 100%. What is a Subaru--Japanese or American? Mine was made in Indiana by American workers with parts from all over the world.

There was a recent story about how all the big-name Italian handbags are being made in Italian sweatshops by Chinese immigrants. So are they Italian bags? Who knows?

The same situation applies to "French" violins. How does France define what "French" is? I'm sure there a bunch of regulations. And yes, they look aesthetically ok. Even instruments imported directly from China now look better than American instruments from a generation ago. They've gotten really good at antiquing.

June 28, 2018, 10:52 AM · Since I've been here which hasn't been very long, the same or similar discussions have surfaced. I began a few of them myself being relatively new at the instrument.

If you're attempting to funnel all data into a funnel and arrive at an "ah-ha" moment I don't want to discourage you. Realistically it's a many pronged answer that best involves a visit to a local violin shop with knowledgeable help if that's possible where you are.If the web is the only place you can shop in your area, then I recommend selecting a merchant who allows a trial period. This is best for both brick and mortar as well as online buying.

I think you'll find the financial damage isn't as extreme as maybe you have thought in going to a local shop. Most violinists seem to move up to something else after reaching a certain stage of playing. The advantages are you didn't buy something in the beginning you should have passed on, or at the least, you could have maybe made some small improvements to the shopping experience with a bit more playing time under your belt.

In my own experience, the quirks of the instrument come out more over time. It wasn't like I picked up a violin and in 15 minutes I knew everything about it.

You'll find people who found something they like and can live with for a long time online. Others will tell you they did better at local shops.
"Good" as applied to violins is a many faceted answer. A violin can sound wonderful but be a horror to play. Lots of factors to weigh. The answer is usually an individual conclusion and not a one size fits all kind of thing. One shop can make 10 mediocre violins and one good violin with the same model number.

The desired sound is subjective to the player. Some of the playing aspects are also subjective. In the end, you gather all the info you can and make the choice you are comfortable with. After all, you will be the one playing the instrument. Not anyone else.

June 28, 2018, 11:47 AM · If you are seriously interested in learning to distinguish between the different styles of violins check out Maestronet. There there is a plethora of info and pictures to help you learn to do this and often daily discussions of what is this fiddle I have here.
June 28, 2018, 11:47 AM · "I'd like to start an informal (and informative) discussion on how can one recognize a good violin, and distinguish it from a mediocre one. And how can this be made through the internet, if possible at all."

Of course it's possible--we do it all the time. Most musical instruments can be evaluated in terms of response, tonal beauty, dynamic range, and physical comfort (unfortunately, most people are swayed by looks to a high degree). However, each of those categories will be subjective. "bright" to one is "dark" to another.

Edited: June 28, 2018, 12:32 PM · Although I can't read the French version of their website, the English translation doesn't say anything I could find about where the instruments are made, but does say where the wood comes from (clue #1).

Clue #2: the price point of the instruments, especially the ones advertised to be made and signed by an individual maker (about 1/10 that of most makers ouside of China).

From these two clues, I'd say 99.99% probability they are entirely made in China, and just marketed by a French company. (What does the label in the instruments say?)

This is not to say they're bad instruments; with all the practice they've had over there, I think they're getting good at this.

June 28, 2018, 3:24 PM · Miguel,

The provenance of a violin is not easy to validate. People were making "Fake" Amati's and Strads a long-long time ago. The question is: do you want a good sound or a sound-investment? Investors and speculators purchase instruments for their potential value over time. To be sure, the most valuable are generally the best instruments made. However, as the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra learned the hard way - there are a fair number of mediocre instruments in the collections of the wealthy collectors - fancy labels in so-so instruments with the halo-effect of people subjectively hearing what they want to hear.

The only way to know the provenance for sure is to purchase from a living maker directly.

In the mean time, a good violin shop will have a good selection of instruments. Play them, have your teacher play them, and don't make a hasty decision. When you find the sound you really-really like - that is the instrument for you.

No, you cannot do that over the internet with ease. The internet is good for many things, but not everything.

June 28, 2018, 3:46 PM · George,
I think there two issues of provenance here: the first is, as you point out, whether or not an instrument was actually made by the name on the label. That's actually simple issue: either the guy made it or he didn't.

The issue in the original post is a more complex issue of how one classifies modern products made with global supply chains. So let's say the "French" violins were made of wood from the French alps, but all the wood was shipped to China, and the finished product was shipped back to France. Or violins in the white were shipped to China for varnish (or vice-versa). Hamilton watches are made in the US with Swiss movements--are they Swiss or American? Most olive oil is a blend from many countries (just look on the label). Maybe you simply can't say what the country of origin is. Maybe the same is true now of violins at the low end of the market.

Edited: June 28, 2018, 5:00 PM · Palomavaleva also sells older violins for what look like reasonable prices.

I have been disappointed when checking out makers of 2 of my own violins on Tarisio. Each is represented by 8 auction sales of his violins this century. For one (USA) maker the sold prices have ranged from $700 to $2,100. The other (Spanish) maker has ranged from $400 to $5,100. I did finally meet the Spanish maker in 1990, 16 years after I had acquire his instrument (for $1,140), and he was overjoyed that one of his violins had finally sold for $10,000 (obviously not at auction!) These are both very nice violins for which I have received complements on sound and appearance and some purchase requests.

I'll never sell!! So don't ask!

I mention this to alert potential buyers that you can find good stuff out there if you cut out the middle man. Even at double the highest of those auction prices either of these 2 fiddles of mine would be a real catch.

June 28, 2018, 9:37 PM · Auction prices poorly reflect the retail market price of a violin.
June 29, 2018, 11:49 AM · I love this forum. I always end up learning new things. Thank you.

I don't know which are the requirements for a product to be "French" but I'm almost sure Scott is right here. I've seen similar things in the past.

Andrew: May I ask you the name of the Spanish luthier you mentioned? I'm Spanish myself and this is a country where there is very little violin-making tradition.

Don Noon: The French website says exactly the same as the English one. I think the only way to see if they're good is to try them. But the price point does not inspire lots of confidence... Thank you!

June 29, 2018, 11:55 AM · My Spanish violin was made in 1970 by Fernando Solar Gonzales - his #157.
June 29, 2018, 12:01 PM · Thank you. I’ll remember his name to see if someday I have the opportunity of playing or getting one of his instruments.
June 29, 2018, 12:45 PM · His shop was in Madrid (he is dead now) but I believe his son and daughter (or daughter-in-law) took it over according to what I read in the STRAD magazine, and began specializing in bows.
Edited: June 29, 2018, 2:55 PM · Hi Miguel, I'm Galician. Where in Spain do you live - area or region if you don't want to mention a particular town? I can ask my teacher if he knows about any reputable luthier nearby your location, if you don't have a teacher that can advise on this. There are at least two very good violin makers here in Galicia, José Catoira in A Coruña and Gonzalo Bayolo in Santiago.
Edited: June 29, 2018, 3:14 PM · The answer seems to be try the violins, according to the above posts. Though I am not sure what the question is? You ask about how to tell a good violin over the Internet. You could buy a Strad for Euro 1 million and hate it. It it is a real Strad, no one has cheated you. You could buy a violin from the website you link, and be happy with it, then discover it was made in China and not France, and feel cheated. Which is worse? The cheap violin which you like, and which is not what you thought it was, or the real Strad which you dislike, and which is genuine?
June 29, 2018, 3:17 PM · Viktor: Thank you. It's good to know they continue making bows. I'll search for the article you mentioned in the strand magazine.

Sue: I live in the north of Castille and León. As far as I know, there are not violin makers in this region, and the nearest one lives in Asturias (Avilés, I think). I didn't know about the ones you mentioned, but I'll remember them. I don't go to Galicia very often, but when I do, I really enjoy being there. It's a really beautiful region...

June 29, 2018, 3:23 PM · John: I agree with your statement and get your point. That's a subjective issue, but the question was an aim to collect some common objective characteristics that let one distinguish a good violin from a bad one, if they exist, as I'm starting to doubt...

The webpage was just an excuse or an example to illustrate what I'm asking. On such a website, without trying their instruments, how can one know if they're good, if they meet some minimum quality standard?

June 30, 2018, 8:06 AM · Miguel, here is a list of Spanish violin luthiers:

https://4allmusic.com/selection-luthiers-pays/luthiers-espana/241-luthiers-de-violines-espana/221-lista-luthiers-de-violines-espana

There are three makers in Castilla y León, but probably not too close to you. In any case, you can check the list in case you happen to travel close to any of them. The link to the website of the first luthier in Castilla y León does not work: you have to delete "web/" at the end of the link in the browser to open it.

July 9, 2018, 4:59 AM · Hi,
Just something I have noticed in some violin websites,too,is that
(including palomavaleva.com, ),when reading the website,the
english grammar and spelling is incorrect,in an awkward way,
sometimes.Some times this may point to the site not being entirely honest....or perhaps its just the translation?

cheers.

July 9, 2018, 5:18 AM · Sue: Thanks for that list. I hadn't seen your message! There are more than I thought. I had just heard of 4 or 5 of them, which are probably the most known ones.

Malcolm: Thanks for answering. I usually distrust websites with those characteristics. It happens the same with the Spanish version of the website. But the French version of the site is fine.

The translation is akward just because they translated literally, word by word, from the French. Really, there are French expressions that just don't work in English or Spanish. French is a very beautiful language, but with a tricky grammar (lots of exceptions) and strange phrasing.


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